The $8,000,000,000 iPod

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Rob Reid destroys the copy­right industry’s absurd claims of dam­ages with sim­ple logic in this five minute TED talk.

When people ask why I have a problem with religion…

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Via Unrea­son­able Faith

On the upcoming anniversary of 9/11

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As we approach the ten year anniver­sary of the dead­liest attack on US soil while at the same time try­ing to solve major bud­get prob­lems, I feel this quote from Bin Laden him­self back in ’04 is some­thing more peo­ple should read:

We are con­tin­u­ing this pol­icy in bleed­ing Amer­ica to the point of bank­ruptcy. … We, along­side the muja­hedeen, bled Rus­sia for 10 years until it went bank­rupt and was forced to with­draw in defeat. … All that we have to do is to send two muja­hedeen to the fur­thest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is writ­ten al Qaeda, in order to make gen­er­als race there to cause Amer­ica to suf­fer human, eco­nomic and polit­i­cal losses with­out their achiev­ing any­thing of note other than some ben­e­fits for their pri­vate corporations

Source: Al-Jazeera via CNN​.com

But of course we should keep spend­ing bil­lions on unwinnable wars while we have a bud­get cri­sis and giv­ing up more and more of our free­doms and pri­vacy to gov­ern­ment intru­sion, because that makes sense some­how in a coun­try that sup­pos­edly val­ues its freedom.

Drugs, harm, and how the Brits are following America’s lead.

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Recently the Inde­pen­dent Sci­en­tific Com­mit­tee on Drugs pub­lished a report in The Lancet rank­ing twenty pop­u­lar recre­ational drugs based on the harm caused to the both user and oth­ers around them. The drugs were judged indi­vid­u­ally on six­teen total harm cri­te­ria cov­er­ing phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and social harm. The cat­e­gories were then weighted by impor­tance (like­li­hood to cause death is worth more points than like­li­hood to cause fam­ily prob­lems, harm to soci­ety is worse than harm to the indi­vid­ual, etc.) The results ended up rank­ing alco­hol as the most harm­ful by far (72÷100), fol­lowed by a close bat­tle between heroin and crack cocaine (55 and 54/100, respec­tively), then metham­phet­a­mine at the #4 spot (32÷100) and trail­ing off from there down to hal­lu­cino­genic mush­rooms at #20 with 6/100.

These results should be unsur­pris­ing to any­one who has read any sim­i­lar reports in the past. They also line up quite well with the argu­ments often made in favor of loos­en­ing or elim­i­nat­ing exist­ing drug laws (the “alco­hol is legal, why isn’t this?” argu­ment). Unfor­tu­nately they have almost no asso­ci­a­tion with the rank­ings used in mod­ern drug laws almost any­where in the world. In the major­ity of the world alco­hol and tobacco are legal and often sold directly by or under the close watch of the gov­ern­ment, yet in the name of “reduc­ing harm” the major­ity if not all of the rest of the drugs on this list are not only ille­gal but also carry stiff penal­ties for mere possession.

Of course the log­i­cal thing to do when sci­ence indi­cates pol­icy is wrong is to amend pol­icy, right? After all, the UK has a sci­en­tific board involved with their drug pol­icy, unlike the USA where the DEA is free to basi­cally set pol­icy as they see fit (fox watch­ing the hen­house, any­one?). Nope, of course when a gov­ern­ment is shown to be wrong by its sci­en­tists, the first thing they do is fire them, then change the law so they’re not needed, and finally go entirely in the oppo­site direc­tion and not only remove the require­ment that harm be demon­strated but instead assume any newly dis­cov­ered recre­ational drugs should be restricted until they are deter­mined to be OK by unspec­i­fied criteria.

It seems another coun­try is fol­low­ing America’s lead of ignor­ing sci­en­tific evi­dence for polit­i­cal gain: When the sci­en­tists don’t come up with the answers you want, don’t change your ideas, just get rid of the scientists.

I don’t get it. Why is it so hard to get a gov­ern­ment to admit that when com­pared to legal recre­ational drugs many ille­gal ones are less harm­ful, some­times to a sig­nif­i­cant extent?

Here are my thoughts on how to struc­ture sane drug laws:

  • NEVER crim­i­nal­ize per­sonal drug pos­ses­sion. All this does is give crim­i­nal records to those who are in most cases oth­er­wise pro­duc­tive mem­bers of soci­ety and restrict those who may have real prob­lems from get­ting help for fear of per­se­cu­tion and/or prosecution.
  • Base ALL pol­icy on sci­ence and sci­ence alone. Media and politi­cian fueled fear rarely makes for accu­rate pol­icy, so stan­dards should be set and then fol­lowed with­out spe­cial treat­ment for any substances.
  • Reg­u­late the drugs you do allow, but only as nec­es­sary to ensure qual­ity and safety
  • Revisit all poli­cies reg­u­larly. New stud­ies bring new evi­dence to light all the time and some­times changes will be needed.

On top of that, some­thing I believe applies to all laws rather than just drug pol­icy, is to have goals for the law based on testable cri­te­ria. If after a cer­tain time the goals have not been met, maybe it’s time for another look. Is the goal still worth­while? How close did this pol­icy come to meet­ing the goal? If it came close, can it be tweaked? If it missed by a lot or made things worse, what’s a dif­fer­ent approach?

Cur­rent pol­icy is sold to us as reduc­ing harm to soci­ety and cut­ting back on crime, when in real­ity it’s wast­ing bil­lions in enforce­ment and cor­rec­tional resources, ruin­ing lives, and fuel­ing an enor­mously prof­itable black mar­ket which funds almost all lev­els of crime. Sci­ence and pol­icy are at odds and two of the most pow­er­ful coun­tries in the world are work­ing to keep it that way. We need to keep pres­sure on our politi­cians to resolve this.

Ignorance of the law…

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“Igno­rance of the law is no excuse.”

We’ve all heard that say­ing. It appears in many works of fic­tion and is often used as a sound bite by judges and pros­e­cu­tors in real life. I hadn’t put much thought in to it until this morn­ing when I read it in an arti­cle about peo­ple who have been arrested and charged with crimes under wire­tap­ping laws for record­ing pub­lic offi­cials, often police offi­cers, in public.

If a law sig­nif­i­cantly devi­ates from what would gen­er­ally be expected by a lay per­son such that said per­son could eas­ily inad­ver­tently vio­late it in going about their day, as far as I’m con­cerned igno­rance is a com­pletely valid excuse. It’s absurd to expect some­one out­side of law-related fields to even have a rough idea of what laws they may run afoul of acci­den­tally, nor should some­one be expected to call their lawyer to see if it’s OK before doing some­thing in public.

A great exam­ple of this sit­u­a­tion han­dled right is the state of Vir­ginia and their law against radar detec­tors. It devi­ates from the national norm, so right after the state line and every so often along the high­ways you will see signs spelling out in bright reflec­tive let­ters that radar detec­tors are ille­gal in that state. It’s a stu­pid law that should never have existed, but they have at least gone through the trou­ble to explic­itly defeat the igno­rance argument.

If you want more, Dumb Laws has a whole col­lec­tion. Some of these are so absurd it makes one won­der what sit­u­a­tion inspired the law in the first place, but some of the oth­ers if you had the right com­bi­na­tion of offi­cer and pros­e­cu­tor you could actu­ally be charged with a crime for vio­lat­ing a law that 99.999% of the world would be right­fully igno­rant of. Fur­ther, as put quite well by Illi­nois State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Chapin Rose, “when you have a law that pro­hibits some­thing your aver­age Joe thinks is per­fectly legal, it under­mines respect for the rule of law.”

Igno­rance of the law, depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, should be a com­pletely valid excuse. Beyond that, when legit­i­mate igno­rance of a law is even brought in to the dis­cus­sion it likely means the law itself should be reviewed for change or removal, as it prob­a­bly is not in favor of the people.

On airport security…

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With the TSA’s favorite new toys the body imagers becom­ing a big issue right now (right­fully), I think it’s time to unleash this lit­tle rant I’ve been refin­ing for years (as they get dumber).

First, a note on sui­cide attacks.

Since a four-pack of sui­cide attacks via air­lin­ers were the event that kick-started this cir­cus of stu­pid, it’s not sur­pris­ing that they’ve been where a lot of peo­ple focus.

The only way to try this which can be stopped is like the 9/11 attack­ers did, where they forced their way in to the cock­pit and took con­trol of the air­craft. There are two rea­sons this can’t hap­pen again. One is the rein­force­ment and reg­u­lar lock­ing of cock­pit doors. The other is the aware­ness of pas­sen­gers. If such an attack was ever tried again, even if they gained con­trol of the plane it would be Flight 93 in seconds.

Bomb-based attacks can not be stopped ever. If some­one is going to blow them­selves up any­ways, they now have a full set of cav­i­ties within which can be stuffed with large amounts of an explo­sive of their choice. Unless we’re going to start cav­ity search­ing every­one who wants to fly (to any TSA employ­ees read­ing this, that’s sar­casm not a sug­ges­tion), it can not be pre­vented. Even if one could detect the human bomb at a check­point, they could just det­o­nate right there and still have their desired effect.

Now that we’re past sui­cide attack­ers, we’re left with two tasks:
1. Keep unat­tended bags from get­ting on the plane.
2. Keep peo­ple from car­ry­ing dan­ger­ous weapons on board which could be used in a tra­di­tional hijacking.

The first is obvi­ous, ensure any bomb­ing would have to be a sui­cide bomb­ing (which we already cov­ered) by mak­ing sure that any bags on board belong to a pas­sen­ger also on board.

The sec­ond weighs heav­ily on proper appli­ca­tion of the word dan­ger­ous. This does not mean any­thing which could poten­tially be used as a weapon. This means any­thing that actu­ally makes any sense to use as a weapon. We haven’t seen any evi­dence for movie ninja grade weapons train­ing among the types that have tried to hijack a plane, so while I’m sure Chuck Nor­ris could kill 10 men with the scraper on a set of nail clip­pers that still doesn’t mean it makes any sense to take them away from pas­sen­gers. If it requires care­ful use to be of any con­cern, again the Flight 93 prin­ci­ple applies. There are more pas­sen­gers than there would be attack­ers in any air travel sit­u­a­tion, so as long as we can keep the guns and big blades off the planes any would-be attacker would eas­ily be over­whelmed even by a small num­ber of untrained indi­vid­u­als, much less if there was a trained air mar­shal or any cur­rent or for­mer law enforce­ment or mil­i­tary on board.

Both of those duties can eas­ily be filled with­out any of the inva­sive “secu­rity” the TSA wants us to believe we need, and were being filled quite nicely by their pre­de­ces­sors. We hadn’t thought of the suicide-plane attack, so they got us by sur­prise, but it was a one-shot trick. Every­thing else either can be stopped with tra­di­tional secu­rity or can’t be stopped at all.

As a final note, please every­one remem­ber that more peo­ple died this year in car acci­dents in Amer­ica alone than have died in all ter­ror­ist acts in recorded his­tory. Use some per­spec­tive. In terms of threats that mat­ter to an aver­age Amer­i­can, ter­ror­ism is near the bot­tom. Stop wor­ry­ing about it. And if you’re a would-be ter­ror­ist, please steal a TSA uni­form and shove some C4 up your ass. If we’re going to keep react­ing in fear from what­ever the last attempt was, let’s at least get some TSA agents being cav­ity searched for the good of the people.

Thoughts on controversial topics #1: Health Care

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Rather than going over the same top­ics time and time again, I fig­ure I’ll lay down a few posts explain­ing my posi­tion on hot-button issues and why I take the posi­tion I do. These posts are intended to pro­voke dis­cus­sion and as such I will attempt to limit my usual unfil­tered out­bursts of pro­fan­ity and ad hominem attacks on the vocal mem­bers of “the other side” to cases where the stu­pid is so extreme that it’s overwhelming.

Up first is the topic of health care reform. I’ve been mean­ing to write a post on this for months but work and real life get in the way.

Read the rest of this entry

Thoughts on internet advertising…

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A post today on Slash­dot got me think­ing about adver­tis­ing. Specif­i­cally adver­tis­ing on the inter­net, but also adver­tis­ing in general.

The arti­cle linked off the Slash­dot post was writ­ten by a man named Jim Lynch, a long time writer in tech­nol­ogy media both dig­i­tal and print. Mr. Lynch is appar­ently annoyed by a new fea­ture in Apple’s just-released Safari 5 web browser called Reader. Reader is a fea­ture that, when selected by the user, attempts to detect “arti­cle” con­tent on a web page and dis­play it in a sim­ple for­mat which is larger and often eas­ier to read than the nor­mal web site lay­out. It also attempts to detect multi-page arti­cles and auto­mat­i­cally dis­play fur­ther pages as you scroll down, effec­tively cre­at­ing a “print” view for sites which may lack such things.

What both­ers Mr. Lynch basi­cally comes down to adver­tis­ing. When using Reader, if it works prop­erly all ads are stripped out of the con­tent. More impor­tantly for some, the auto­matic load­ing of the next page means cost-per-impression ads get many less views as they would only show on the first page before the user clicked the Reader button.

I under­stand the key point behind his com­plaint, web sites cost money to run and that has to come from some­where. This site costs me about $275 a year between domain reg­is­tra­tion and server space, and it’s fairly low vol­ume (under­state­ment of the cen­tury, I aver­age less than 40 pageviews a day not count­ing spi­ders). I pay this out of pocket, since for my use the domain is for my email and the VPS is just a place for me to exper­i­ment. As far as I’m con­cerned I’d be pay­ing for them both any­ways, so why not put some­thing there? Obvi­ously that rea­son­ing doesn’t tend to apply out­side the range of per­sonal blogs and the costs are much higher when you start talk­ing real traf­fic lev­els requir­ing real servers rather than a vir­tual slice of one.

Unfor­tu­nately, I can’t help but not feel the slight­est bit of sor­row for adver­tis­ers and those run­ning adver­tis­ing when they com­plain about their ads being blocked. They’ve for the most part brought this on them­selves, by design­ing their ads to be as intru­sive and annoy­ing as pos­si­ble. Web pub­lish­ers have been just as badly a part of the prob­lem, inject­ing ads as if they were con­tent, allow­ing nui­sance ads with auto­play audio/video or var­i­ous popup/under/over win­dows, and in some par­tic­u­larly annoy­ing cases using the con­tent as the ad with Intel­liTXT and the like.

We’ve already seen what the abil­ity to skip ads has done to the tele­vi­sion indus­try. For years they thrived on annoy­ingly loud and repet­i­tive ads which seemed to rely on the “any pub­lic­ity is good pub­lic­ity” the­ory. As soon as the DVR became com­mon the ad mar­ket pretty much fell apart on any­thing peo­ple weren’t watch­ing live. Now that exten­sions like Adblock for Fire­fox and Apple’s new Reader are mak­ing it easy for the aver­age user to dodge ads (rather than us geeks who have been doing it for years) the inter­net ad com­mu­nity fears the same thing happening.

All I have to say is that the inter­net ad indus­try needs to learn from the suc­cess­ful tele­vi­sion ad campaigns.

First and fore­most, DO NOT PISS OFF YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMER!!!!!!!!!
If an overly loud and annoy­ing ad comes on the radio or TV, I’ll turn the vol­ume down or change the chan­nel if I don’t really care for what’s on while mak­ing a men­tal note to avoid the adver­tiser if pos­si­ble. The same applies to inter­net ads. If your ad stretches over the con­tent I’m try­ing to read, starts play­ing audio out of nowhere, makes half the words on the page pop up prod­uct links, or oth­er­wise inter­feres with my read­ing of the con­tent I will go out of my way to avoid your prod­uct where pos­si­ble. If ad block­ing is avail­able, I’ll turn it on imme­di­ately when any of those hap­pen and may make a note to avoid the site where it was seen as well.

Sec­ond, draw my eye the right way. You do not have to be loud, either lit­er­ally with audio or fig­u­ra­tively with bright/flashing col­ors. Use your space to make me inter­ested in what you have, then if I actively click on it you can load your con­tent of choice. This is more for adver­tiser rather than pub­lish­ers, but due to point one pub­lish­ers would do well to enforce point two.

Third, be rel­e­vant. If I’m read­ing a site about cars, an ad for purse built to carry small dogs is most likely irrel­e­vant. Again this is for both pub­lish­ers and adver­tis­ers. Ad net­works which do not tar­get based on con­tent are out­dated and should be dropped imme­di­ately from both sides.

Fourth, don’t try to shove too many ads in my face. I myself start get­ting annoyed when there’s more than 3 – 5 ads on the screen at one time, depend­ing on the amount of con­tent and such. Sites that split arti­cles in to a huge num­ber of short pages in order to increase impres­sions for ad pur­poses fall in to the same cat­e­gory (and I believe these sites are the great­est rea­son for the Reader fea­ture). Divid­ing arti­cles in to mul­ti­ple pages is fine, but don’t do it unless you have at least as much infor­ma­tion on a page as an aver­age mag­a­zine. Two para­graphs and a few pic­tures are not a page.

The short ver­sion is pro­vide ads that don’t annoy the reader and prefer­ably are some­thing they might actu­ally want and you won’t have as many block­ing them. If the rel­e­vance goes up, more peo­ple will click on them too. As for the rest, those who have already decided to install full ad block­ers, those are gone already. You won’t get them back, it’s just too nice. Down­load Fire­fox, install Adblock Plus, and sub­scribe to one of the pop­u­lar fil­ter lists like Easylist. Now turn it off and browse to a few pop­u­lar news sites. Turn it back on and reload those pages. If you don’t agree that this is a much cleaner and more enjoy­able way to browse the inter­net you’re blind.

An Open Letter to AT&T

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To whom it may concern:

Over the past two days there has been a lot of talk about your new data plans, par­tic­u­larly the removal of the “unlim­ited” option. While I believe there should be a third tier for the heav­ier users, I can under­stand the rea­sons for mov­ing to an entirely metered struc­ture and do not have any prob­lems with that part. Where I do have a prob­lem is the addi­tional $20 per month charge for users of inter­net tethering.

Before I make my points, let me quote one of your Senior Vice Pres­i­dents, Mark Collins, from his inter­view with GigaOm on the day the new plans were announced.

That capa­bil­ity is enabling some­thing you can’t do today. You can use one device and get mul­ti­ple con­nec­tions so it’s more use­ful to you. You’re going to use more data so the price is based on the value that will be delivered.

This is in response to the ques­tion “What about the $20 teth­er­ing fee? It looks like a con­ve­nience charge.”

That capa­bil­ity is only enabling some­thing you can’t do today because you locked it out in the first place. My AT&T-branded LG CU500 could not tether until I had a teth­er­ing plan, but my unlocked and unbranded Sony K850i could just fine with­out any spe­cial teth­er­ing plans. The Apple iPhone 3G and 3GS both have sup­ported teth­er­ing offi­cially since the release of the 3.0 firmware released nearly a year ago, but this was dis­abled on mod­els sold in the US because you did not want to allow it. Teth­er­ing is not some spe­cial fea­ture you are doing work to enable and deserve to be paid extra for, it’s a fea­ture all of our data-capable phones have built in which you have actively engaged in defeating.

I won’t argue the state­ment that it makes my phone and data plan more use­ful, but again this is a fea­ture that both have inher­ently had from the begin­ning and you have actively sought to remove. If I went to rent a four door sedan and found that the pas­sen­ger side and rear seats had been removed unless I paid an extra fee to have them rein­stalled, I and any other rea­son­able per­son would think that is out­ra­geous. Unfor­tu­nately you are able to take advan­tage of the fact that 99% of your users are not technology-savvy and thus do not know how much they’re being screwed.

The last part of that response is the most illog­i­cal of them all. “You’re going to use more data,” so the price increases with­out the amount of data I’m allowed to use chang­ing in the slight­est? How is me using 2GB in one month on a smart­phone dif­fer­ent from using 2GB in one month teth­er­ing to even a dozen lap­tops? Data is data, one type doesn’t put any extra load on your net­work ver­sus another.

Extra charges for teth­er­ing were accept­able when the alter­na­tive options were smartphone/dumbphone-only unlim­ited pack­ages, since yes, a teth­er­ing user is likely to use more data over­all. How­ever, if I’m already buy­ing a bucket of bits how does it mat­ter at all if I choose to use those to feed my smart­phone directly or down­load some­thing to my laptop?

To close, I have been a cus­tomer of AT&T since port­ing in from T-Mobile’s then ter­ri­ble cov­er­age in 2005. In that time I have at peak car­ried two voice lines, one iPhone data, and one Lap­top­Con­nect at the same time. I know that does not make me any­thing spe­cial, but I’m sure it’s more than most of your sin­gle non-business or fam­ily cus­tomers. I have also defended AT&T as hav­ing the best net­work for geeks due to your use of open GSM tech­nol­ogy and until recently high­est mobile data speeds. As you might guess, I will not be doing this any longer and I will be empha­siz­ing the prob­lems I have with your change to any­one who may ask about your ser­vice. I had been eye­ing the Sprint/HTC Evo 4G for a time while debat­ing mak­ing the switch, I thank you for help­ing me make my deci­sion. You can expect to see my num­ber port out in the near future.

Sean Harlow

Sent via e-mail to Ran­dall Stephen­son, CEO and Mark Collins, VP of Voice and Data

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

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Just some of my favorites from the Every­body Draw Mohammed Day group on Facebook.

South Park Mohammed

South Park Mohammed

Dreamworks Mohammed

Dream­works Mohammed

Rage Cartoons style Mohammed

Rage Car­toons style Mohammed

If the Quran tells Mus­lims not to depict their prophet, that’s fine and I have no prob­lem with them liv­ing by that. When they try to enforce their beliefs on oth­ers is where the line is crossed.

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